The Fort Worth Zoo goes the extra mile, and if you visit it, you should do the same. Every inch of this 65-acre park is worth seeing. Once run by the City of Fort Worth, the zoo has been managed since 1991 by the Fort Worth Zoological Association, a nonprofit formed to help raise funds. Since then it has added eleven new exhibits as well as new walkways and multilevel boardwalks, and attendance has doubled. On entering, you cross over a small, thatch-roofed bridge and hear the ripple of cascading water, a sound common to many areas of the park. Employees scour the hedges and sidewalks for even the tiniest bits of microtrash; attention to detail is evident everywhere.One of the first attractions my daughter, Rayna, and I encountered was also one of the most outstanding: The World of Primates, a 2.5-acre habitat featuring a glass-roofed structure filled with lush forest greenery, is home to chimpanzees, gorillas, colobus monkeys, and orangutans. Glass walls and a moat separate visiting humans from their anthropoidal cousins, but at times it is difficult to tell the residents from the guests. One introspective gorilla sat just inside the transparent wall and picked his nose, much to the amusement of onlookers who laughed, gawked, and tapped on the glass.
You can't fault the zoo for raising funds to give its inhabitants and visitors the best possible surroundings, but sometimes the corporate logos associated with most of the menagerie are a bit much. The official name of the zoo's exhibit of cheetahs, African warthogs, and bongos (a striped African antelope), for example, is Chee-tos Cheetahs, and Cap'n Crunch is on top of things down under in the Koala Outback, where the cuddly marsupials loll about. But what were the folks at Terminix thinking, I wonder, when they decided to sponsor Insect City?
We almost forgot that we were in Texas as we walked through Asian Falls. This series of habitats—some approached by raised boardwalks—winds around a forty-foot waterfall and is populated by tigers, bears, rhinos, and elephants, among them Neela, a white tiger, and the zoo's pride and joy, "little" Bluebonnet, the first elephant born here. Bonnie, who weighed 269 pounds at birth, now tips the scales at more than 1,500 pounds.
This place is about more than looking at animals. It's also about conservation, education, and the preservation of habitats and ecosystems. We were reminded of this when we reached the pair of fragile, endangered red-crowned cranes, part of the zoo's species survival program and two of ten that were hatched at China's Shenyang Zoo. Their nesting area is decorated with Chinese characters that mean "happiness" and "long life." 1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth (817-871-7050; www.fortworthzoo.com). April 1 through November 3: open weekdays 10 to 5, Saturday and Sunday till 6. November 4 through March 31: open every day 10 to 5. General admission $7, senior citizens $3, children 3 to 12 $4.50, under 3 free; half-price on Wednesdays. Parking $4. Wheelchair accessible.